Joseph Schlossberg, vice president of Global Business Development for Sourcing Solutions International, hanger and packaging suppliers, discusses alternatives to clothing hangers and why companies like Costco, Disney and others are buying them by the millions.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

January 16, 2024

6 Min Read
GeoPic / Alamy Stock Photo

Who would have thought that clothes hangers could be a big trash problem? They end up in landfills by the billions and are believed to take hundreds of years to break down.

Joseph Schlossberg, vice president of Global Business Development for Sourcing Solutions International, hanger and packaging suppliers, discusses alternatives the company has come up with and why companies like Costco, Tommy Hilfiger, Disney, and Carters are buying them by the millions.

Schlossberg also gives an inside view of the sustainability landscape in the apparel world overseas where the company runs factories.

Waste360: How and why did your sustainability story begin?

Schlossberg: Our mother company, Build Up Group, had been manufacturing hangers in the apparel industry for decades but wanted to rebrand as something special.  Our inception, in reality, was our first step in the direction of sustainability, and we didn’t even know it. 

SSI started with the goal of being the first suppler of its kind offering hangers and core packaging items from the same company.  Just by offering both product categories, we would shrink companies’ carbon footprint by consolidating shipments and offering more products from one place. 

One of our first moves was to come up with a “slim” line design for our hangers.  These hangers use less material but still meet specifications and requirements of the thicker counterpart.  Just a small step that ultimately brought us to where we are today.  The conversation started with “How can we use less plastic?” and over time it adapted to “Can we eliminate plastic entirely?”  Today, SSI offers a full line of plastic hangers, paper hangers, and Hybrid Hangers.

Waste360: Who are some of your customers we’ve probably heard of?

Schlossberg: As one of the largest hanger and packaging suppliers in the industry we work with brands from Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Disney, Vince Camuto, DKNY, Carters, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Jordan, etc.  We supply products to major retailers including Costco, BJs, Walmart, Sams Club, Macy’s, Dicks Sporting Goods, Dillard’s, Belk’s, Target, etc. 

Waste360: How did your products evolve?  

Schlossberg: This initially started with paper hookless hangers for Costco.  If you have ever been in a Costco store, you will note that most of the clothing is packed on tables, using a hookless hanger to keep the piles organized.  As the industry started to call for less plastic, we worked on developing a completely paper option for this program, and it was a BIG hit.  Not only was the brand/retailer doing the right thing, but it sent a clear message to consumers that they were following better practices. 

We found quickly that the weak point in these new hangers was the paper hooks.  A full paper option would be a risk for stores as they do not want their goods to end up on the floor. That’s where the Hybrid Hanger came in.    Although the hook is still made from plastic, it used a certified GRS material so you can track the life cycle of the recycled material.  This hanger meets all product requirements while eliminating 86% of the plastic from the hanger. It can be found in Target and Walmart, and we expect many more retailers to be on board in 2024.

Waste360: Who would have thought that hangers were a huge trash issue? Can you discuss this and how retailers deal with it?

Schlossberg: Every retailer is different.  Some collect the hangers at the register for recycling/reuse, but many stores send them home with the customer.  Some customers dispose of these correctly and recycle them; however, certain hanger types (specifically the intimate hangers) are too small to be recycled and get landfilled.  It is believed that billions of hangers end up in landfills and it could take 500 years for a plastic hanger to breakdown. But paper hangers break down in a few months.

As big of a problem as this has been, it didn’t become a major focus until other single-use plastics were banned, such as shopping bags, plastic straws, etc.  This drew attention to the plastic hangers and, luckily, SSI was years into development on our alternatives, which put us in a strong position for this new direction. 

Waste360: Are there other sustainability issues going on behind the scenes for apparel retailers and manufacturers?

Schlossberg: Yes.  Apparel makers are constantly tasked with consolidating shipments to leave less of a carbon footprint. Or doing as much as they can under their own roof, making them as vertically integrated as possible.

Using plastic hangers as an example, most plastic hanger manufacturers need to go out and purchase metal hooks and metal clips to complete the hanger. We manufacture our metal components to limit our need for importing.  Garment factories have the same tasks.  If they can make their fabrics in house, there is no need to import them.  Virtually eliminating the need for trucks, boats, etc. for them to have the material they need. 

Waste360: What are some trends you are seeing among retailers in their work to become more sustainable?

Schlossberg: One trend is that vertical integration has become the goal for suppliers and apparel makers, but sometimes that is not possible.  An apparel factory isn’t going to invest in expensive machines to make hangtags, labels, or hangtags.  However, many brands are adding sourcing offices in production countries to make sure everything comes from as “close to the needle” as possible.  They want to work with suppliers IN country as opposed to importing from neighboring countries whenever they can.  That is why SSI is strategically set up in the countries doing major apparel production.  We need to be as close to the end factory as possible.

Waste360: What countries do you work in and what does the sustainability landscape look like for brands and manufacturing there?

Schlossberg: My factories are in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc.  The biggest apparel brands and retailers know that they are just as responsible for their factory choices as the factories themselves.  Audits are done on a regular basis today to make sure factories are kept to a certain standard.  Audits are not just checking the cleanliness of the factory, but also looking at human rights among factory workers. 

If you want to work with the biggest retailers today, you need to make sure your factory is up to standard.  There are still regions in the world that are blacklisted from producing goods for certain retailers because of human rights issues.  You are never going to eliminate these issues completely but as long as the right audits are in place and people are checking in on these things, it will continue to get better. 

Waste360: Any closing thoughts for Waste360 readers?

Schlossberg: I truly think most people would be blown away if they knew how hard brands/retailers are working to be more sustainable.  Facts have shown us where the issues are, and you can either be a part of the solution or continue being a part of the problem.  However, with new testing and audits constantly going into place, there will eventually be no option but to conform with the idea of leaving the planet a better place.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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